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The Political Economy of Cross-Scale Networks in Resource Co-Management

W. Neil Adger, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
Katrina Brown, University of East Anglia
Emma L. Tompkins, University of East Anglia


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We investigate linkages between stakeholders in resource management that occur at different spatial and institutional levels and identify the winners and losers in such interactions. So-called cross-scale interactions emerge because of the benefits to individual stakeholder groups in undertaking them or the high costs of not undertaking them. Hence there are uneven gains from cross-scale interactions that are themselves an integral part of social-ecological system governance. The political economy framework outlined here suggests that the determinants of the emergence of cross-scale interactions are the exercise of relative power between stakeholders and their costs of accessing and creating linkages. Cross-scale interactions by powerful stakeholders have the potential to undermine trust in resource management arrangements. If government regulators, for example, mobilize information and resources from cross-level interactions to reinforce their authority, this often disempowers other stakeholders such as resource users. Offsetting such impacts, some cross-scale interactions can be empowering for local level user groups in creating social and political capital. These issues are illustrated with observations on resource management in a marine protected area in Tobago in the Caribbean. The case study demonstrates that the structure of the cross-scale interplay, in terms of relative winners and losers, determines its contribution to the resilience of social-ecological systems.

Key words

Caribbean; institutions; marine protected areas; natural resource management; power; social-ecological resilience; transaction costs.

Copyright © 2005 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087